Valencia County farmer’s water lawsuit dismissed

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State District Judge Shannon Bacon has dismissed a lawsuit by a Valencia County farmer alleging the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District was violating farmers’ water rights.

But the decision came on narrow procedural grounds, leaving unsettled a festering conflict over managing water in the Rio Grande Valley during drought.

Bacon ruled that the procedural tool farmer Janet Jarratt and her attorneys employed, a request for immediate court action to force the conservancy district to give preference to senior water rights holders, was inappropriate for dealing with the problem.

Jarratt and her attorney, Albuquerque lawyer Blair Dunn, had asked the court to issue a “writ of mandamus” — an immediate legal directive to the conservancy district. But Bacon ruled that there were too many unanswered questions surrounding the water rights claims for the court to issue a writ.

Bacon, in an oral ruling delivered from the bench, acknowledged the extreme conditions plaguing water users in the state currently.

“It’s not lost on anyone the widespread shortages the state is experiencing,” Bacon said. But she said that on the narrow legal issue raised by Jarratt and her lawyer, the court was powerless to intervene.

The question revolves around how the conservancy district, which delivers water to farmers from Cochiti to Socorro County, allocates supplies in dry years.

Jarratt’s suit argued that the district has a legal obligation, under the New Mexico Constitution, to respect the “doctrine of prior appropriation,” the legal principle that the earliest water users have the highest priority rights when water is scarce.

Charles DuMars, the conservancy district’s attorney, argued that the state statute under which the conservancy district operates allows the agency to allocate water equally among all its users.

Jarratt and Dunn said after the hearing that they were considering other legal options, and that their effort will continue.